Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Leading Wellbeing Research Festival: Why should I attend?

By Janine John

Final preparations are underway for the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival in July, which, this year, is being jointly organised by Brathay Trust and The University of Cumbria's Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS).

On agreeing to blog about the festival (I don't work with either organisation, but am looking forward to attending), I wanted to find out a bit more about how it all came about, and so arranged to chat with various people within the organisations, including Jem Bendell, Professor of Sustainability Leadership and Director of IFLAS, and Dr Lucy Maynard, one of the event's organisers at Brathay Trust; for those less aware of Brathay's work, this includes research on wellbeing and resilience in the workplace for aspiring leaders.

How did the festival come about?

In the last two years, Brathay Trust, along with various departments within the University of Cumbria, have held joint one-day conferences on wellbeing. Both organisations have considerable expertise in this wide-ranging subject, and this year it was decided to take things to a new level with a three-day event attended by world-class leaders and some of the leading minds within wellbeing and sustainability.

Jem tells me that it's now time for IFLAS to announce to the world what it is doing on leadership, which is something not being repeated anywhere else, and the conference will form part of this. This year's festival is very much a one-off opportunity; it’s unlikely that the format will be repeated in future years.

What's the festival about? Why is it different?

The focus of the festival is on wellbeing, along with the interconnected themes of leadership and sustainability. But it won't be your usual conference, as the emphasis is very much on experiential learning within an informal and inspiring environment - and what better place to achieve this than the beautiful Lake District?

Jem describes how he became really bored with academic conferences, and that somewhere along the line we forgot that discovering new ideas is amazing and should be fun. These are worrying times, which require a very different type of leadership, so these new ideas can't be explored in a boring way.

Lucy echoes these thoughts by telling me that Brathay's key methodology is experiential learning through personal experience. The festival will provide the time, space and new experiences to give attendees the permission to do things differently, to really reflect and to tap into a deeper learning and understanding. The festival's activities are designed so that people can explore and work together to unpack the critical subjects being discussed, with many of the activities taking place within the natural environment.

Lucy explains that wellbeing is often discussed at the level of the individual, whereas here we will be talking about collective wellbeing, and the leadership required for it. Jem too, tells me that sustainability is about collective wellbeing, and that ultimately, “we can only be well if we're all well together”. The festival will be an opportunity to learn about the latest ideas on creative change within organisations and communities, for local and greater good.

Who will benefit?

There are particular practitioners who will really benefit from attending the conference, including management consultants, those responsible for procuring the services of leadership trainers, and wellbeing professionals. Jem says that, given the growing responsibility of larger employers to support the wellbeing of their staff, it's critical we share the very latest ideas on wellbeing. The festival will also provide an opportunity to discover the newest approaches to leadership being used across the world.

As an attendee, it is expected you will gain new insight into how your future work can make a significant difference to what and who you care about most. It's all about doing things differently. Those who join the IFLAS MBA courses frequently comment that the course has completely changed their life, and this is the type of experience it is hoped the festival will create. And as Jem points out, when else will you be able to reflect on critical concepts with a CEO in a canoe, inspiring new ways of leading well, in such an incredible setting?

Tempted to book?

With the collective expertise of both IFLAS and Brathay Trust, and the many fantastic thought-leaders taking part in the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival, I'm really looking forward to the experience. If you think you or other members of your organisation would also benefit from attending the festival, there's still time to book - visit the 'tickets' section of the event's website at for more information.

On a practical note, if childcare is a concern for you, there are free indoor and outdoor activities being provided throughout the conference, along with professional babysitting.

I look forward to seeing you there!

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